Shell mounds of Omori

Dr. Edward Sylvester Morse left San Francisco on May 29, 1877, and arrived at Yokohama Port late night on June 17.  Two days later, Dr. Morse went to Tokyo by the railroad which had opened only five years before.  He wanted to go to Tokyo to ask a favor from Dr. David Murray, advisor at then the Ministry of Education regarding his interest in collection of shells.  This was one of the purposes of Dr. Morse's visit to Japan.  In particular, Dr. Morse wanted to widen his area of activity because back then, foreigners were only allowed to move within a radius of ten “Ri”, or roughly 40 kilometers from their settlement.  Dr. Morse's train started from Yokohama Station and arrived at Omori Station 44 minutes later.  Omori Station was only a temporary station at that time, and it was believed that the train made a stopover for only approximately one minute.

Soon after the train left Omori, through looking out the train window, Dr. Morse discovered that there were shells piled up along the railway.  Experienced in excavating shell mounds when he was at Harvard University, and inspired to conduct research on shell mounds in Japan, it only took an instant for Dr. Morse to determine that what he saw were shell mounds.  The white shell layer was believed to have been spotted by many people before Dr. Morse, but it was overlooked because nobody thought it was such valuable ruins.  Even the intellectuals involved with the Meiji Restoration had scarcely any archeological 

knowledge of ancient times before then compilation of “Kojiki” or the “Ancient Chronicle” of Japan.  Such lack of knowledge indicated a lack of research in this field at that time.  

On September 16 of that year, after spending three months in Japan, Dr. Morse took students of his zoology class at Tokyo University to the Shell Mounds of Omori.  They gathered a number of earthen vessel fragments, fragments of bone works and a piece of earthen board.  The result of this and subsequent excavations carried out under Dr. Morse's guidance, together with the treatise report issued two years later titled “Shell Mounds of Omori”, his work greatly inspired the general public back in those days in Japan.  The articles excavated at the Omori Shell Mounds were honored with His Majesty Emperor Meiji's inspection on December 20, 1877, and were made public later on.

The level of archeological studies in Japan has now improved to match the rest of the world.  But it all started at this very excavation site of the Omori Shell Mounds.  That is why the Omori Shell Mounds are designated the “Birthplace of Japanese Archeology”, making it a site of worldwide historical importance.

             -The Association of Shell Mounds of Omori Preservation-

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